Our True Citizenship

The Rt. Rev. Craig Loya

Our True Citizenship

Beloved in Christ, 

Many years ago, I attended a concert in a university chapel. An Orthodox priest sat behind me, and I overheard him react with amazement to his companions that there was an American flag in the church. He had rarely been inside a Protestant worship space, and he found the conflation of national and Christian symbols to be shocking and alarming. For him, the symbols made two very different claims about who we are in the world. 

He had a point. For Christians, observing Independence Day and celebrating our nation should always be complicated. Our truest and deepest identity is found in Jesus and his way of love, not in the categories of nationality, political party, ethnicity, or any of the other ways we mark who is who in the world. There was a time when most Protestants uncritically tolerated a blurred line between our national and Christian identities and an easy coexistence between the cross and the flag. A widespread cultural assumption was that being “Christian” and being “American” were inseparably linked, and it was implied that for both, white, middle-class, male-dominated values and lifestyles were normative. While the widespread cultural establishment of Christianity is largely gone, a dangerous and idolatrous Christian nationalism surges today, and we have an obligation to speak out and resist any and all ways that the name of Jesus or Christian is invoked by those who violently insist on a narrow understanding of our national identity.

At the same time, we can’t simply pretend that we are not part of America. Our founders developed a beautiful vision for a common life free from the tyranny they were fleeing, even as they were blind (willfully or otherwise) to the tyranny they themselves were inflicting on so many. That vision deserves to be celebrated, even if their blindness must always be critiqued. And, we are called to always look in the mirror to examine how we, too, are blind to the tyranny we inflict, or that is inflicted on our behalf. 

It will not do for us to simply sit back and shake our fist at all that is unjust in and about America, as if we do not, like all our forbears, share in at least some of both the good and the bad. Following Jesus does not allow us to opt out. While we must be clear that our true citizenship is found in God’s reign of love, we must always work for the good of the place where we sojourn for now, seeing, striving for, and yes, even celebrating the vision of what we could be, making this our constant prayer:

Lord God Almighty, who has made all the peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and in peace: Give to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. — (Collect, For the Nation, Book of Common Prayer, 258)

Grace and peace,

The Right Reverend Craig Loya
X Bishop
Episcopal Church in Minnesota